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August 05, 2015

Politics is funny but it still comes as a huge surprise that Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance’s Rick Green is supporting public financing of political campaigns.

Mr. Green hasn’t quite gone all Bernie Sanders on us but the idea of his supporting public financing occurred to me as I read Shira Schoenberg article on Masslive.com, 2 businesses fight state ban on campaign contributions. Put that one together with a May story in the Lowell Sun by Anne O’Connor, 1A Auto tax incentives approved in Pepperell, and you’ve got Mr. Green supporting public financing of campaigns.

Here’s the logic. The Lowell Sun story reported that Mr. Green’s company had gained approval from the Town of Pepperell for a $1 million “tax increment funding” for 1A to build a new headquarters in town. In fairness to 1A the story says that this is popular in Pepperell. At any rate, the town forgoes $1 million in tax revenue over fifteen years.

Turn to Ms. Schoenberg’s story and you find that Mr. Green and Mass Fiscal board member Michael Kane have sued the state because the commonwealth does not allow corporations to make contributions to individual candidates, but unions can. The plaintiffs want corporations to be able to make contributions to candidates.

Voila! A1 gets a tax break from local government and uses the money to contribute to political candidates. It’s a publicly financed campaign contribution!

I admit I got a bit giddy reading Ms. Schoenberg’s article but it’s just so darn funny. For example, Mass Fiscal’s Paul Craney argued that the suit would “give voice to people who are voiceless.” (I swear I am not making this up).

If there is one interest in American politics that is not voiceless, it is business.  Here are two recent examples: Governor Baker’s 100% increase to the earned income tax credit was halved when Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable got involved to protest the repeal of a tax accounting rule that had never been implemented; and the legislature passed an expensive and highly questionable tax holiday at the behest of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. (Still a superb job by the governor and legislature on EITC though).

Mr. Kane complained that the state’s ban on corporate contributions is unfair because “out of state unions have more influence in Massachusetts than he does.” That one almost turned the argument in MassFiscal’s favor until I scrolled back up and read that the actual litigation is being conducted by the “Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank focused on personal freedom … a non-profit that does not charge fees to its clients.”

The intricacies of campaign finance are not my specialty but my understanding is that unions operate under different rules than corporations in Massachusetts because union donations are an aggregate of many very small voluntary contributions (often in pennies in payroll contributions) from flesh-and-blood people who don't have the  dough to match corporate check books. The actual flesh-and-blood people who run corporations are able to aggregate their contributions in PACS, just not the not-so-flesh-and-blood people who are corporations, my friend.  

Rest assured, those with loving hearts that embrace corporations-who-are-people, in our post-Citizens United world big bucks contributors are doing just fine. So fine in fact that former President Jimmy Carter recently called the United States "an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president.”

To return to Massachusetts though, Mr. Green might want to rethink that Pepperell tax break.  If he builds his business with public money, well, he might find himself on the wrong side of the Elizabeth Warren ‘you didn’t build that on your own’ divide.

Polls and the Olympics II will be posted on Tuesday rather than today.

Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, Rick Green, Paul Craney

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